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POOLING IDEAS

14-08-2009

Sparkhill baths

A meeting to consider the future of Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre takes place next Tuesday evening. Steve Beauchampé has the details.

A public meeting to consider the future of Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre is being held from 7pm-9pm at Sparkhill Social and Cultural Centre (located between the Pool and Sparkhill Library) on Tuesday, August 18th.

The pool closed in July 2008 following the discovery of asbestos in pool hall roof tiles installed during building work carried out in the 1970s, but subsequent investigation revealed deep-rooted structural issues believed to have been caused by the use of chlorine. Though the fitness gym (located in the former washing baths area) remained open until June of this year, following publication of the engineer’s report, this has now been closed and the building locked.

The panel will include Councillor Martin Mullaney (Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture and a regular user of the pool before its closure), Helen Coulthard (founder of the Save Sparkhill Baths campaign group) and Russ Spring (Chair, Friends of Moseley Road Baths and a campaigner for community pools)

Helen Coulthard, who called the meeting, told The Stirrer: “We need to get a sense of what is happening, what the options are.

Since the pool closed there has been no opportunity for the public to give their views, for Council Officers and Councillors to gauge public opinion. This was a vital and popular local facility and people feel that it’s been taken away without any real explanation as to what’s happened or, more importantly, what’s going to happen.

We’ve heard that it could be up to two years before we have a swimming pool again and in the meantime there’s nowhere nearby for our children and local schools to use, while the closure of the fitness gymnasium has implications for the health of local people.

It’s good that the city is offering free access to pools and gyms, but people in this area can’t take advantage of that.“

A City Council Cabinet meeting on July 13th requested that officers investigate design options and costings for either a refurbishment of the existing structure or demolition and rebuild (either at the current location or elsewhere in the locality - most likely a parcel of land just behind and to the side of the current building).

There appears a general acceptance that, owing to the state of the present structure, where corrosion of the building’s metal frame has reached the foundations under the main swimming pool, substantial demolition is inevitable. However, a key aspect of Tuesday’s meeting will be to consider whether to save the remainder of the building, which is locally Listed Grade B and generally well regarded architecturally by locals, or to replace it with a new structure.

Also likely to be raised is the issue of pool length. Size really does matter to some and at 100ft Sparkhill is one of the city’s longest pools, with many preferring this length to the standard 25m swimming tanks being proposed or installed across the country.

Martin Mullaney has publicly stated a preference for retaining as much of the original building as practicable, including the frontage, entrance hall, learner pool and chimney stack, but is also mindful that rebuilding or reconstruction costs will be a crucial determining factor in what final direction the council take.

He will outline to the meeting the extent of the current structural problems as well as showing images of the planned replacement facility for Harborne Pool and Fitness Centre, to give Sparkhill residents a sense of what a new build facility could look like and what amenities it might incorporate.

Sparkhill Baths (as they were originally called) were opened on July 29th 1931. Designed by Hurley Robinson (who also designed Kent Street Baths near to the Hippodrome Theatre), they epitomised the new confidence in Birmingham’s inter-war swimming pool building programme.

To examine contemporary bath design, officials travelled to mainland Europe, particularly Germany. Inside, oak, pine and walnut combined with subtle use of colour (notably primrose) and a bright, airy pool to create an ambiance of quality and cheeriness, a relief from the realities of depression-era Britain. There is an impressive central arch dividing the main pool from what is believed to be Britain’s first learner pool.

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